Yep, my dad was right

In the summer of 2001 I was divorcing my first husband, high tailing it out of a town I didn’t want to live in, and had my sights set on joining one of two friends as soon as the ink dried on my divorce papers: either a sorority sister who had just moved to downtown Chicago, or one of my closest high school friends who was leaving Chicago for NYC. After a lifetime of bouncing around Iowa, Illinois, then back to Iowa while growing up, I didn’t feel at home anywhere and wanted to get as far away from the Midwest as humanly possible (on the shoestring budget of a newly divorced twenty-something). My father got a little misty eyed and said something to the effect of “If you move to New York, you’ll never want to move anywhere else, ever again. But it would be great if you decide to give Chicago a chance, even if it’s just for a few years.” He said it with reverence and nostalgia for the New York he immigrated to several decades earlier as a teenager.

By the time my divorce was finalized I decided to humor my parents and scheduled one day of back-to-back interviews in Chicago, just in case my friend John’s laissez-faire advice of “Move here. Crash at my place. You’ll totally find something!” didn’t pan out. My interviews were on the 11th of September. I ended up moving to Chicago.

Chicago was the first – the only – place I’ve ever truly felt at home. I moved there on the weekend of the Chicago Marathon (I ran my first of several the very next year), lived next door to the most beautiful library I’ve ever laid eyes on, dated half the city, knew the Lake Michigan running path like the back of my hand, cocooned myself in a very large vegan bubble, and despite my very best efforts managed to meet someone worth marrying and even let him knock me up. I swore up and down that I would never ever ever leave Chicago. (I still don’t know how I ended up in North Carolina, but we’re having a blast.)

That fella I married almost a decade ago, well, we took a little trip to Brooklyn Heights last week. We’ve both been to NYC on our own, but I wasn’t married and definitely wasn’t a parent my last visit out, so I was seeing things through a different prism.  We tromped around a couple of the boroughs, but really we just settled into the Heights and soaked it all up while I thought to myself, yep, my dad was right.

red door blue bikeFDNY 205Peaks b&wpromenadejapanese magnolia envycasting shadows on brickbedroom window

 

sunrise sun rise

Obligatory sunrise photos from the promenade.

 

TeresasThe reason my mother-in-law was worried I wouldn’t find anything to eat? She dined at Teresa’s almost every night, and yes, it was difficult finding something vegan. Smack dab in the middle of their menu was a rocket-radicchio-pear salad that was so big I needed help to finish it. Unexpected victory never tasted better.

 

CHAMPSA quick hop and transfer on the MTA led us to this joint, which was in the vicinity of Nitehawk Cinema (we’re cinema folks; it made us very very happy).

 

Veg GingerNestled atop some eatery called Andy’s is a Chinese vegan mecca.

The green awning above Andy’s was home to Vegetarian Ginger, a vegan restaurant we stumbled into our first afternoon in BH, mostly because it was two blocks from the apartment. We hadn’t eaten anything of substance in about twelve hours, and after a horrible Griswaldesque start to our vacation of which our four hour flight delay was the least of our annoyances, we were so hungry that we ordered two appetizers and three entrees. Several days later, I’m still dreaming about the miso mushroom soup and pineapple avocado rice I had there.  Last night while walking the grounds I still had them in mind as I picked some green garlic and baby kale. I worked out how to combine the components of both dishes into one, and my new favorite Buddha bowl was on the table an hour later.

buddha bowlsI promise the food tastes umpteen million times better than it looks!

Pineapple avocado Buddha bowl with mushrooms and green garlic

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This dish is very adaptable to whatever vegetables are in season. I went with white rice because I was out of brown, but I know I’ll make this again with quinoa, millet or barley. I especially like the combination of having both cooked and raw components; I shredded my raw vegetables and folded them into the rice with the miso, which had just enough warmth to wilt them without overheating the miso. A simple dusting of hemp hearts finished this dish off, but I think sliced almonds, cashews, or a spicy peanut sauce would also be lovely. It’s a nourishing bowl, intended to soothe your current cravings.

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1 1/2 cups short grain rice
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 cup pineapple chunks, fresh or frozen
1 cup sliced mushrooms of choice
1 stalk green garlic, thinly sliced, divided
Dash each of ground ginger, ground coriander, and white pepper
1 carrot, grated
3-4 leaves baby kale, minced (size of grated carrot)
2 tablespoons shiro (white) miso
1/2 avocado, diced
2 tablespoons hemp hearts

Rinse the rice briefly one or two times in a fine sieve, then combine in a heavy-bottomed pot with 2 cups water. Bring the pot to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover tightly. After twenty minutes, check once to make sure the water has all been absorbed; if not, let it simmer a few more minutes, taking care that the rice at the bottom of the pan doesn’t scorch. Turn off the heat but keep the rice covered for another ten minutes to let it rest.

In a small skillet or sauté pan, heat up the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the pineapple pieces and brown them on both sides. Turn the flame down to medium and add half of the sliced garlic, all of the sliced mushrooms, and the ground spices. Stir frequently until the mushrooms are wilted and have released most of their water; remove from heat and leave uncovered.

When the rice is done resting, remove the lid, fluff it with a fork, and let it cool for a couple of minutes. Add one cup of cooked rice to a bowl. Fold in 1 tablespoon miso, half of the carrot and kale, and half of the remaining uncooked garlic. Once this is mixed, make room in the bowl for half of the pineapple-mushroom mixture, and half of the avocado. Repeat for the second bowl, mixing the remainder of the carrot, kale, garlic and miso into the rice, and adding the remaining pineapple mixture and avocado to the second bowl. Sprinkle each with one tablespoon of hemp hearts, and serve while still warm.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 15 minutes active, 40 total | Yield: 2 bowls

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I would be remiss

I feel compelled to apologize for the recipe I’m about to share, so I’ll just cut to the chase. It’s messy, and time consuming, and dirties far too many pots and utensils than any one-dish meal should call for.

If an enthusiastic, Dodin Bouffant-wearing seven-year old helps you out? It turns into a scene right out of Shel Silverstein poem.

spaghetti2

Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place . . .

But here’s the thing – it’s really good. Also! it’s especially suited to the extreme wintry weather we’ve all been experiencing. Nothing says ‘comfort food’ like a pan full of smooshed spaghetti, right?

What I’m trying to say is that I’d remiss if I didn’t share this with you.

oodles of noodles oodles of noodles

Spaghetti pie

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This recipe has lots of steps and ingredients because that’s how I unwind when the weather forces me indoors. If you’re in a rush, though, the basic equation for this dish is: 1 box spaghetti + (1/2 C red sauce blended with 1/2 C cashew cream cheese) = spaghetti pie. If you’re using gluten free pasta, you’ll want to cook and drain it just before mixing with the sauce. If you use semolina pasta, you can use leftover or fresh noodles. This calls for cashew cream cheese – plain ol’ cashew cream (super thick) works just as well; store-bought vegan cream cheese would probably work, but I don’t know how it would taste.

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1/4 cup caramelized onions or, 1 medium onion + a splash of oil
2 handfuls mushrooms, minced
1 large pinch each of dried basil and oregano
3-4 lacinato kale leaves, cleaned, de-stemmed and finely chopped
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
splash of red wine
1/2 cup cashew cream cheese or thick cashew cream
1 box (12-16 ounces) spaghetti
a few pinches turbinado sugar

Lightly oil a baking dish, 8 x 8 inches-square or something approximate to that size.

If you need to caramelize your onions: slice your onion into half-moons, and then slice those into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add a teaspoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and toss to coat; add a pinch of salt and toss again. Stir frequently until the onion has first softened, then browned, then turned a deep caramel hue. Scrape your pot as necessary when the onion sticks, and use a couple tablespoons of water or white wine if needed to deglaze your pan while your onions finish caramelizing.

If using pre-caramelized onions (I actually keep jars of 24-hour slow-cooked caramelized onions on hand because I am a food nerd), add them to a cold, heavy-bottomed pot and place over medium heat. Once the onions have warmed through, add the herbs and mushrooms. Stir for a couple of minutes to sweat out most of the moisture, then add the kale. Add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. If you don’t live with a couple of spice-phobic wimps, add a large pinch of red chili flakes, too. Stir frequently until the kale has softened and everything is starting to stick. Use a big splash (or three) of your favorite red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping as you go. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover partially, leaving the lid ajar to let steam evaporate as the sauce thickens.

While the sauce cooks down, preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C and make your spaghetti. If making gluten free spaghetti, this is what I do to keep it from sticking after it drains. I bring a kettle (or small saucepan) of water to a boil, and then immediately after draining my pasta in a colander, I pour the hot water over it for a second rinse. Works like a charm!

Return your cooked and drained pasta to it’s pot, and toss with a tiny bit of oil if you’re worried about it sticking. Turn the heat off from under your sauce. In a medium bowl combine 1/2 cup red sauce with 1/2 cup cashew cream cheese and stir to combine. Toss this with the pasta until the spaghetti is uniformly coated. If your spaghetti is too dry, add up to 1/2 cup additional red sauce. You only want enough sauce to coat the pasta, though, not to saturate it.

Turn the spaghetti into the oiled baking pan, tucking in any stray noodles so that the top is relatively flat. Add a thin layer of sauce over the top, taking care that every noodle is covered. Unless you like a few wispy crispy edges, which I do – then by all means, leave a few tendrils unsauced! Sprinkle the surface lightly with sugar – just enough to bring out the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes.

Bake for 30 minutes, covering lightly with foil if your sauce starts to brown. Let the pan rest for about five minutes after you remove it from the oven.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Stovetop time: 30 minutes | Oven time: 30 minutes